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'Pizza King' featured on 'Chopped'

Published 11:30 am, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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  • Bruno DiFabio, owner of Pinnochio Pizza in New Canaan, will appear as a judge on the Food Network show "Chopped" Sunday, Feb. 2. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / New Canaan News Contributed
    Bruno DiFabio, owner of Pinnochio Pizza in New Canaan, will appear as a judge on the Food Network show "Chopped" Sunday, Feb. 2. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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You'd be hard-pressed to try and find a man who knows more about pizza than Bruno DiFabio. The family-forged pizza maven, whose Pinnochio Pizza in New Canaan is one of 10 restaurants he runs throughout the country, already has gained a reputation for his expertise.

That's why the well-known Food Network show "Chopped" invited DiFabio to judge a special pizza-related episode, which was shot in the fall and will air Sunday at 9 p.m.

"I'm pretty excited about it," said DiFabio, a Ridgefield resident and burgeoning television star -- a new show he helped create called "Pizza Kings" has just been sold and is planned to reach the air in 2014.

"I was on a couple of shows in 2013," he said, including Access Hollywood and Good Day New York, "so I've gotten a pretty good amount of exposure."

That's why a casting director for the show approached DiFabio in New York.

"I had to go and interview for it ... She basically asked me a bunch of questions," he said, even recording some footage on her iPhone.

"It was a little nerve-wracking," he said, but 10 days later he was asked to make the appearance and filmed it around Halloween.

"The experience on `Chopped' was really amazing," he said, noting that the cast and crew were exceptionally friendly. On "Chopped," chefs are pitted against each other in competition.

"It was a real family atmosphere there," he said, adding that more than 50 people worked on getting the show on the air. "Off set, there's a lot of joking around and you can tell these people are very, very close."

For DiFabio, who has made himself a student of his craft, he vacillated from feeling he was making some great contributions to discussions and sometimes feeling it was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

And yet DiFabio must be doing something right when he's in front of the camera because his expertise and personality have combined to help create the new reality cooking show called "Pizza Kings."

The show follows DiFabio as he embarks on worldwide expeditions to find grand, delicious ingredients, then, with a partner, sets about cooking different kinds of pizza in the strangest of places.

"We forage and we come by the ingredients that we find in Burgundy, France, in Belgium, in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy," DiFabio explained.

"And then we make pizza in very unconventional ways," he said, such as in a steam pot aboard a ship in the Adriatic Sea, over a campfire in the Italian mountains, and in a 600-year-old oven at a chateau in France that hasn't been used for 400 years.

DiFabio can't reveal details of the deal at this time, but announced gladly, "We're gonna get our shot. We're gonna be on TV."

He expressed gratitude to "Chopped," for his Super Bowl night appearance will help him get a burst of exposure. "I'll become more recognized in the culinary scene," he said.

DiFabio, who grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., began in food from an early age. His grandfather, Arcangelo Liberatore, bought a famous Manhattan eatery called Tony's Italian Kitchen in 1961, and beginning at age 10, DiFabio was there working hard on weekends, holidays and all week throughout each summer.

"I knew what I wanted to do," he said, opening his first restaurant, Amore, in Scarsdale, N.Y., in 1993.

"I was there about seven years when I opened up my New Canaan store," he said.

Since that time, DiFabio, who has three sons and a wife, Sandra, of 21 years, has committed himself to learning everything he can about pizza -- the origin of its ingredients; the places where food is grown, cultivated and processed; the range of styles.

"I was a very, very arrogant pizza maker in my early 20s," DiFabio said. "I had great pizza and I had great technique, but I didn't know why I was using the techniques."

He amended that and, through private workshops, continues to pass on his knowledge and expertise.

"I love to talk about pizza," he said.

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.